'My folks are cool about me modelling bikinis'
When the stunning Himarsha Venkatsamy won the Kingfisher Calendar Girl Hunt recently, there was a little celebration at a golf estate somewhere in Durban. The coastal city of South Africa is home to 25-year-old Himarsha who beat, among other contestants, her sister Terushka in a contest that was televised on NDTV Good Times.
While Terushka has established herself as a stylist of some repute in South Africa, Himarsha is a physiotherapist by education. The modelling bug, however, was always there. A student of the Witwatersrand University, Himarsha was simply dying to finish her college so she could 'get into modelling full-time'.
She modelled in South Africa for a couple of years and life seemed to go on as usual till the IPL was hosted there. The IMG bosses (sponsors of Lakme Fashion Week) were in SA too and Himarsha saw this as an opportunity to explore the Indian shores. "I went through the usual rounds of screen tests and was waiting to hear from them. Meanwhile I'd decided to travel to India nonetheless and invited Terushka to join me. We booked our tickets online and as luck would have it, I was selected to participate in Lakme Fashion Week," Himarsha says.
In the midst of walking for Tarun Tahiliani, Krishna Mehta and a bunch of other high-profile designers, Himarsha found time to travel and explore a good part of the country, get a modelling agency to hire her and applied for the Kingfisher Calendar Girl Hunt.
"Terushka and I travelled quite a bit. We went to Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Kashmir and Goa. It was a great experience because we'd never really experienced India like we did in those two weeks," she says.
While Indian food took its toll on Terushka's figure -- she put on almost five kilos during that time -- Himarsha managed to keep her weight under check. "I train a lot and am conscious about what I eat," she says, "So I might have put on some weight, but it wasn't a lot and I was quite in shape for the fashion week as well as the Calendar Girl Hunt."
To be part of the hunt itself was a surreal experience for both the sisters. "C'mon, how many people get a chance to participate in a television show with their sister?" Himarsha asks rhetorically. "It was a dream come true. Also when we participated, we'd told ourselves that one of us has to win it. So when I did, Terushka was happier than me, I guess," she giggles.
Interestingly though, the two sisters were not always so close. Terushka tells us, "Himarsha was always the baby of the family. And during our growing years, we never bonded so much. In fact I was closer to my brother than I was to Himarsha and we'd do our own thing. When I was 21, both of us went through heartbreak around the same time and that's what really brought us close. Since then, we've been inseparable."
They competed with each other for about a week in the hunt, which was being aired on national television before Terushka was voted out by the judges and Himarsha was all by herself.
Image: Himarsha Venkatsamy in one of the final rounds of the of the Kingfisher Calendar Girl Hunt
Photographs: Courtesy NDTV Good Times
'I am not surprised she made it to the finals'
It was gruelling," Himarsha says of the run up to the finals. "We would barely get three hours of sleep every night and I was competing with a set of very intelligent and good-looking girls. The challenge at the end of it all was to look your best."
While Himarsha herself might have been unsure of her victory, it seemed like the judges had taken a liking to her right from the start.
Milind Soman, for instance, tells us that he found Himarsha to be 'the most unique of the three (winners), because in my career I have probably come across just one or two other models who have the kind of frame and proportions she has... the kind of stature, the kind of strength and power that she exudes."
Ace photographer Atul Kasbekar, who shot the calendar, adds that he was floored by her energy. "I am not surprised she made it to the finals."
Yet, when the defining moment came, Himarsha says she was praying to God. "Deep in my heart, I was hoping it would be me. I had butterflies in my stomach and when my name was announced, I simply couldn't believe my luck!"
She continues, "It was five in the morning and it was as if a huge burden was taken off me. I was so exhausted by then and the only thing I remember doing was running to hug my sister!"
The celebrations, however, had to wait for some time. Himarsha won back in November, but her name was officially announced to the world only on December 19. "The only people I was allowed to share this news with were my family."
So back in Durban ,when they received the call, Himarsha's father Chris and mother Pam Venkatsamy popped the champagne. It was a time to celebrate. Chris, who turns 60 this year, is in the mood for retirement these days. He spends most of his time on the golf course. It has been a tough life for this psychologist, who spent 45 years living through unfair apartheid laws that pervaded his country.
Chris does not speak much about his apartheid years. Though he does say that he never really managed to go to a college, he really wanted to because it was meant only for whites. "My application was rejected," he tells us, "So I eventually graduated from the University of Durban Westville." Chris, however, likes to look at the brighter side of life ("As a family, we like to laugh a lot," he says) and adds that it was here that he met the light of his life -- Pam, to whom he has been married for the last 32 years.
Image: Himarsha takes a moment before answering a question on the show
'The children have always had our support'
Chris is a second generation South African -- his father came to the shores of Durban when he was 11 -- and is the youngest of 11 children. "I come from a humble, close-knit family. My father taught all his children the importance of family values that all of us have tried to impart to our families too," he says.
Family for Chris is his wife, a son, Divashan, who is studying to be a psychologist, Terushka who also participated in the model hunt and Himarsha, who won it.
The day we spoke with Chris, he and Terushka had had an hour-long chat about her future.
"We have a house each in Cape Town and Johannesburg and we were hoping our daughters would live there. But it seems like Terushka wants to move to India for a while. And so does Himarsha," Chris says, half resigned and half concerned.
Yet the fact that both his daughters are bikini models doesn't seem to bother Chris at all. He says that bikinis have been part of Durban's collective consciousness for a long time now. "Durban is a coastal city with a very open culture and scantily clad women are not novel at all."
Pam chips in, "Both Chris and I are open to the idea of Himarsha and Terushka being seen in a bikini. As long as they are comfortable doing it and are confident of carrying themselves in it, neither of us has an issue with it. The children have always had our support in whatever decisions they make."
Terushka, it seems, has already made up her mind. The 28-year-old designer and stylist who has been written about in the local press now wants to expand her business. Her clothing company is called BeauMonde and already has three outlets -- one in Durban and two in Cape Town. The store, she hopes, is the beginning of an empire she wants to head one day. Terushka has also been a stylist with Cosmopolitan magazine but always wanted to do 'her own stuff'. BeauMonde came about as a result of that. "I started this store in a flea market. And before anything, it caught on," she says.
Somewhere between managing her three stores, Terushka managed to get 'spotted' by a talent hunter and started modelling and acting. "It is fun," she says, "juggling various things." But the months leading up to the grand finale seem like a blur to both her and Himarsha. "So much seems to have happened in such a short time, I am still coming to terms with it," Himarsha says.
As for the future, Himarsha and Terushka are clear that Mumbai is where they wants to be. They have lived here for a few months now -- initially in hotels and then later in accommodations their modelling agency provided. "I have always been a big city girl and I am quite adaptable. I loved Mumbai as a city when I came here. It is very modern and open-minded. It's also very safe. Funnily, I never really felt I was away from home."
Image: Himarsha poses with first and second runners-up Anjali and Nidhi
'Mumbai is an exciting and emerging market'
Perhaps it also had something to do with the fact that my sister has been with me all along." she says
Modelling in Mumbai seems like a great option. But what about films, we ask her? "I love modelling better," she says, "Though I'd never say never!"
Giving Himarsha company will be Terushka, who will be here largely to promote her company, rather than model. Both sisters believe that the city holds immense potential for fashion and fashion-related businesses. "It is an exciting and an emerging market. There is a lot of corporate backing and a minefield of talent," Himarsha says, refusing to reveal anything more of her future plans,but assuring us that there will be 'surprises in store!'
Currently in South Africa, Himarsha is packing at her Cape Town house to return to Durban for Christmas celebrations. Her family will be there too, to welcome her with open arms. Chris is mighty excited and so are Pam and Divashan. Terushka will drive down to the airport receive her. And Himarsha is looking forward to a break that is well-deserved and earned.
Image: Another sizzling pic of the winning trio
Know your Kingfisher model
According to her profile on the show, Himarsha Venkatsamy stands tall at 5 feet 8 inches and is 25 years old. The sexy model spills more of her secrets in a quick rapid fire round of questions
What according to you is your best asset?
My dynamism and energy. I don't have the fear of trying anything new. But most importantly, I understand the idea behind a shoot or a concept and I take my career very seriously.
How do you get those abs?
A lot of crunches. Say no to chocolates and yes to lots of of green tea!
How do you keep your skin so healthy?
Cleansing, toning, moisturising and getting a lot of sleep -- which can get a little difficult.
What according to you is the best part about modelling?
The fact that you get to travel a lot and meet a lot of new people. And then could you ask for a better job than one where you have to simply wake up and look fab?
What has been your most embarrassing moment in life?
I am very accident-prone but I don't get embarrassed very easily. I usually just laugh it off!
Your favourite cuisine?
Indian food, especially sea food!
Your favourite Bollywood film?
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham
So you understand Hindi...
Nope! Watched it with subtitles.
What kind of music do you like?
I love listening to music all the time. Tracy Chapman is my favourite. But I love all kinds of music -- house, rock, anything works.
Your biggest indulgence?
Buying shoes. I have a lot of them.
Your biggest challenge so far?
Completing medical school. It was a task getting through five years of intense and gruelling schedules.
What turns you on in a man?
And what turns you off?
Selfishness and arrogance.
You can't leave your home without?
What do you do in your spare time?
I gym a lot. And I love to party, dance and travel a lot.
If you were asked to bare for a shoot, what were the things you'd ask?
Who is shooting the pictures? would be my first question. I would expect that the pictures shot will not be for mass circulation but a high-end fashion magazine or a work of art. But most importantly, I would follow my gut feeling before agreeing to do the shoot.
Image: Atul Kasbekar poses with all the Kingfisher models at the calendar launch